Researchers tested ravens they had raised themselves (“hand-raised”), starting at four months of age (not far from the egg…) and then at 8, 12, and 16 months of age on a series of cognitive skills, compared to chimpanzees:
Comparing the cognitive performance of the ravens with those of 106 chimpanzees and 32 orangutans who completed similar tasks in a previous study, the authors found that with the exception of spatial memory, the cognitive performance of the ravens was very similar to those of orangutans and chimpanzees.Nature Publishing Group , “Cognitive performance of four-months-old ravens may parallel adult apes” at Phys.org Here’s the open-access study.
The authors offer an explanation:
The findings provide evidence that ravens, similarly to great apes, may have evolved general, sophisticated cognitive skills. The authors propose that ravens developed these skills in response to living in a constantly changing environment where survival and reproduction are reliant on cooperation and alliances between ravens. However, the authors caution that the performance of the ravens studied may not be representative of the species in general.Nature Publishing Group , “Cognitive performance of four-months-old ravens may parallel adult apes” at Phys.org
Okay. But no one familiar with wild ravens and similar corvids should be the least bit surprised. The intelligence noted might not be a “secret sauce” in the way those researchers raised the birds. Corvids often hang around humans because they can spot food fairly easily from a tree. For one thing, retired people sitting in parks throw bread crusts at them. Researchers who study animal intelligence, like the fine people who published the study, even look after corvids—instead of eating them. So why not cultivate humans?
On the other hand … most humans don’t especially like corvids and have been known to aim ballistics at them. So the birds also need intelligence to discern the difference, and detect friends. But that doesn’t prove that the birds evolved that intelligence in order to survive in a human urban environment.
Consider the other message in the Phys.org story: “the cognitive performance of the ravens was very similar to those of orangutans and chimpanzees.” But aren’t orangutans and chimpanzees supposed to be the closest animals to humans? Aren’t they supposed to have “almost” reached human intelligence?
The reality is that we really don’t know how intelligence is created. For one thing, we would need to understand information in relation to matter and energy, and we just don’t. We work with information all the time but we can’t relate it to matter and energy because information is immaterial and matter and energy are material.
We also don’t have any reason to believe that the human ability to reason and abstract arises from material sources. Maybe ravens are as smart as chimps because reason and abstraction are not required.
It is going to be an interesting decade.
You may also enjoy:
But, in the end, did the chimpanzee really talk? A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine sheds light on the motivations behind the need to see bonobos as something like an oppressed people, rather than apes in need of protection